The prospect of watching a 122-year-old farce about the tangled romances of the British upper class featuring a cross-dressing man in the title role quite filled me with dread.
Braced for a braying bloke in a frock reinforcing sexist stereotypes in a creaking production, I was pleasantly surprised by Clear Creek Community Theatre’s production of the Brandon Thomas-penned comedy “Charley’s Aunt.”
Sure, the three-act structure is a little long for modern audiences, but the characters are charming, the comedy is still funny and there were a number of standout performances from actors clearly having a great time on stage.
“Charley’s Aunt” is a mistaken identity comedy about two Oxford undergraduates trying to engineer an opportunity to propose to their sweethearts. The girls won’t come to their rooms without a chaperone, forcing the pair to convince a friend to impersonate Charley’s Aunt to get the girls there. Of course chaos ensues.
The success of this production shouldn’t have been a surprise given the play’s a theatre perennial and the story has been produced as a silent movie, a Jack Benny movie and Broadway musical.
In this production, Nick Churchill was fantastic as the cross-dressing Lord Fancourt Babberly. In drag as Charley’s Aunt, he never descends to sexist parody but instead plays an innocent trickster caught by his own desire to help his friends. Also his love scenes with Heather Opsahl (Ela Delahay) were the most romantic out of the four love stories presented in the show.
Matt Grabowski and Robert Gaddie perform well as the lovelorn students Jack Chesney and Charley Wykeham although Grabowski could have a little more fun with the role and not be quite so supercilious. Jenny Klonizchii and Sierra Irwin are sweet as the love interests Kitty Verdun and Amy Spettigue respectively.
Pat Monks was a humorous straight man as the all-knowing butler Brassett, while Matthew Phillips brought gravitas and grace to his role as Sir Francis Chesney.
Robert Peeples really plays up Stephen Spettigue’s hypocrisy-mining humor, from his desire to protect the moral character of his niece and ward and his own lecherous advances toward Charley’s Aunt.
On opening night Kathy Edge filled in for Paula Williams, who was unwell, playing Charley’s real aunt, the very glamorous widow Donna Lucia D’Alvadorez. Edge’s comic timing was excellent, and she did a fine job in making the audience forget the script she was holding.
On the design side, it’s something of a Steven Sarp affair as he takes on set design, set construction and sound design duties for the show. The three scenes worked well to evoke student rooms at Oxford, a garden at Oxford and also a grand drawing room.
The painted marble fireplace in the third act was a particular highlight, and rumpled artificial grass in act two was a distracting lowlight.
It was a nice touch to have music from the Broadway musical adaptation of “Charley’s Aunt” playing during the intervals.
“Charley’s Aunt” is a silly and sweet ode to the power of love and friendship.
And like last year’s successful production of “The Importance of Being Ernest” it demonstrates Clear Creek Community Theatre’s skill in making a comedy workhorse prance like a filly.